Untangling the Many Lies Joran van der Sloot Told About the Murders of Natalee Holloway & Stephany Flores

The Peacock documentary Pathological: The Lies of Joran van der Sloot delves into the pain Joran caused two families before he confessed to killing Natalee Holloway in 2023.

By Natalie Finn Feb 27, 2024 12:00 PMTags
Watch: Natalee Holloway's Harrowing Final Moments Detailed

Joran van der Sloot never denied meeting Natalee Holloway at a bar in Aruba, or that he spent time with her by the beach in the early morning hours of May 30, 2005.

But he didn't admit to killing the 18-year-old until 2023, when he gave a detailed confession in federal court in Birmingham, Ala., as part of his October guilty plea to extortion and wire fraud charges

"A far as I'm concerned it's over, it's over," Natalee's mother, Beth Holloway, told reporters outside the courthouse. "Joran van der Sloot is no longer the suspect in my daughter's murder. He is the killer."

Natalee's family had spent the previous 18-plus years hoping for definitive answers about what happened to the teen, who'd been in Aruba with classmates celebrating their high school graduation, though as time went by they tried to make peace with not knowing for sure.

They found some solace after Joran—who was arrested a couple of times but never charged in connection with Natalee's disappearance—was sentenced to 28 years in a Peruvian prison after he pleaded guilty to the 2010 murder of Stephany Flores.

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The new Peacock documentary Pathological: The Lies of Joran van der Sloot, premiering Feb. 27, unpacks the twists and turns the investigation into Natalee's disappearance took as he gave contradictory versions of events to police and the press, dangling the possibility of answers.

In 2010, Joran tried to extort $250,000 from Beth in exchange for the truth, less than three months before Stephany's body was found in his hotel room in Peru.

Holloway Family/FBI; Splash News

But even being locked up didn't stop the havoc. And questions remain about whether Joran did, in fact, tell the truth about Natalee in the end.

Here are the revelations unpacked in The Lies of Joran van der Sloot:

Natalee Holloway's Final Hours

Jessica Caiola, a classmate of Natalee's who was on their 2005 trip to Aruba, described the last time she was with her friend.

On May 29, 2005, the night before they were supposed to go back to Alabama, a big group went to the bar Carlos 'n Charlie's and everyone seemed to be having a great time. But when the group descended on a food truck outside the bar for a late-night snack, Jessica remembered looking up and seeing Natalee in the backseat of a silver car that was driving away.

"She was really happy," Jessica said in the Peacock series. "She was laughing and singing and waving to us, so we literally were like, 'Oh, how funny, there goes Natalee, I guess she got a ride home.' That was the last time we saw her."

The Heartbreaking Search for Natalee

Mom Beth Holloway and dad Dave Holloway, divorced since 1993, immediately flew out to Aruba when they were told their daughter was missing.

Natalee's older brother Matt Holloway remembered seeing his father literally jump into a landfill and sift through trash bags with his bare hands in a frenzied attempt to find any trace of her. 

"Dad was in that 100 percent," Matt said in the doc, "and seeing that was really powerful."

In archival footage from Aruba, Dave looked back on those earliest days and remembered feeling that Natalee's "not here anymore."

But he pressed on with the search all the same. "I had to convince everybody else that I had the wrong feelings, that maybe we would find her alive," he said. "But I had a sinking feeling that things aren't right."

In 2017, Dave credited his sunglasses with doing a lot of heavy lifting when emotions overwhelmed him. "Sometimes," he said, "you lose it and start digging in a sand dune, 'Let's look in this hole.' Knowing there's nothing there, but let's do it."

Joran Sends Mixed Messages

In 2008, Joran was in Thailand when he offered Fox News' Greta Van Susteren an exclusive interview.

Investigative journalist Steph Watts, a producer and correspondent for On the Record for Greta Van Susteren at the time, explained in the Peacock documentary that he was tasked with going to Thailand to make the arrangements, which would include paying Joran $25,000 to secure the exclusive on what happened to Natalee.

But it was illegal to bring more than $5,000 at once into the country, so Steph had to entertain the "agitated" young man before they could wire more funds. He said at one point Joran asked if the producer could just get him the money from his own personal bank account.

At the same time, Steph recalled, Joran was "incredibly charming. I had to constantly remind myself of why I was there and who he was. He was cordial, he was funny, but I realized how incredibly dangerous of a situation I was in. He could have snapped on me." 

Joran told Greta that he arranged to sell Natalee for $10,000 to a man from Venzuela interested in blond American girls. He claimed that, after meeting Natalee, he arranged to bring her to the beach for the exchange.

On the way to the airport after the interview, Steph recalled, Greta got a text from Joran reading, "Everything I told you was a lie. I just did it for the money."

Fox News ran the interview, disclosing Joran's retraction and that he'd been paid. Greta noted it was unclear which version of his story, if any, was true.

Attempted Extortion of Beth Holloway

After his dad Paulus Van der Sloot died suddenly of a heart attack in February 2010, Joran moved back in with his mom in Aruba. The following month, he emailed Beth's lawyer, John Q. Kelly, offering to show them where Natalee's remains were in exchange for $250,000.

John arranged to go to Aruba, telling Joran they'd pay $25,000 to start. The family also consulted the FBI.

In the documentary and in a 2010 appearance on Dateline, John recounted Joran's story: On the night in question, Joran wanted to leave the beach and when Natalee refused to go, he angrily threw her—and she hit her head.  Joran went home to tell his father and Paulus returned to the beach with him. Paulus told Joran to stay in the car, got out and dragged Natalee into the brush out of sight. Paulus went back a day or two later to get Natalee's body and buried her in the freshly poured foundation of a house under construction.

Joran showed the lawyer the supposed dump site, a house near the Aruba Racquet Club. 

"I thought it was all bulls--t right from the start—'cause his dad was dead!" John explained in the doc. "Joran loves giving information that can't be verified. This was just one more spoke in the wheel of lies of his."

The FBI confirmed there was no house being built at that location in 2005, that the land hadn't even been developed yet. But though they seemingly had Joran on wire fraud, "nothing happened," John said. "I don't know why they didn't pick him up."

A Father's Regrets

When Stephany Flores was killed several months later, John couldn't help feeling guilty. "Sort of felt like I had blood on my hands," he said, thinking about that $25,000 financing Joran's trip to Peru. "I connected a lot of dots...It's a heavy burden."

Stephany's father, Ricardo Flores, gave his daughter a credit card and a Jeep Cherokee when she started college, gifts that provided her with a lot of freedom. Ricardo wondered if it was too much.

"It was bad," he said, per the doc's translation from Spanish, "because I didn't teach my daughter that there was also evil in the world."

A skilled poker player, Stephany frequented casinos in the area—and, according to her family, she usually won. She ended up meeting Joran at the Atlantic City Casino in Lima and was last seen alive May 30, 2010, five years to the day after Natalee died. The night clerk at the Hotel Tac, where Joran stayed for about two weeks, found Stephany's body in his room early on the morning of June 1.

Investigators determined she'd been strangled and sustained injuries to her nose and face from external blows. "She suffered before she died," Juan Callan, a former captain with the Peruvian National Police, said in the Peacock doc.

Ricardo said authorities refused to show him Stephany's body, so he tried to remember her "as she was." 

One Cool Customer

One Cool Customer

By the time Stephany was found, Joran was already hundreds of miles away, having hired a cab to take him to Nazca, a two-hour-plus ride, and then enlisting the driver and his brother to keep going south. Neither of them suspected that their calm, chain-smoking passenger was on the run.

When they got to the Chilean border, Jhon Williams Aparcana Pisconte remembered in the doc, Joran informed the brothers he didn't actually have the $1,500 he'd agreed to pay for what had been a 15-hour journey. He gave them a watch and asked for their phone number, saying he'd send the money later. Jhon and sibling Oswaldo Aparcana said Joran sounded as though he really intended to do so.

"He fooled us," Jhon admitted, "to put it simply."

But news that Joran was wanted in Peru on suspicion of murder traveled fast. He was arrested June 3 in Chile after a tollbooth operator spotted him crouched in a cab and called the cops.

Joran Confesses to Murder

Callan, the ex-police captain, recalled Joran offering to make a full confession so long as they promised to send him back to Aruba.

So, they made him "an empty promise," the retired cop said. In the interrogation footage shown in the doc, Callan asked Joran in Spanish if he'd killed Stephany, and he replied, "Sí."

Joran said he told Stephany he'd teach her to play online poker and they went back to his hotel room. But when he opened his laptop, there were messages on the screen about Natalee, some calling him a "murderer." He was talking about it with Stephany, Joran continued, when she hit him in the head. He "hit her back" and she started bleeding "too much."

Then he "just went for her neck," Joran said. Asked if he choked her, he said yes.

"Ordinary murderers usually show remorse," Callan said in the doc. "They ask for forgiveness. But this murderer did not show any signs of regret. He is totally cold." 

An attorney for Joran initially argued that his client had committed manslaughter, but Joran ultimately pleaded guilty to murder in 2012 and was sentenced to 28 years in prison.

Unexpected Life Insurance

Ricardo didn't go into detail, but said in the documentary, per the translation, "We've taken measures to take care of" Joran in prison. As in, they wanted to ensure that Joran lived to serve his full sentence. 

"We've made sure that nothing bad happens to him," Stephany's dad explained. "Because if he dies, it's over. His suffering is over, his punishment is over. What he has to repay is over."

Joran's Love Life in Prison

Joran married Leidy Figueroa in July 2014, the then-24-year-old telling CBS News' Crimesider she met the inmate in 2010 when she was at the prison with her cousin visiting someone else. She gave birth to their daughter that October.

She told a local news outlet at the time, per an English translation, that she wasn't afraid of Joran, that "God has touched his heart." She added, "He fully regrets everything. You can't imagine his suffering."

When Eva Pacohuanaco met Joran at the prison while with a friend visiting her boyfriend, Joran told her up front that he was married but getting divorced, Eva shared in the Peacock doc. And, having recently been "abandoned" by the father of her son, she believed him. She also didn't know who he was and thought he was serving time for something more akin to robbery.

Eva noticed Joran's "pretty eyes," she recalled (per the doc's translation), and she liked that he asked her questions about herself. They went on to have "intimate encounters" at the prison. Only afterward did she look up his name online and was admittedly shocked, noting, "He's always been a gentleman."

Doing the Math

Eva said in the doc she got a call from someone who wanted her to deliver an order to Joran in prison. She asked what it was and she was told it was just groceries, staples like pasta and rice. But when she got to the prison and the bag was searched, penitentiary agents found 297 grams of cocaine and 140 grams of marijuana hidden inside raw beets.

Joran set her up with lawyers who got her out of jail, Eva said, but there's still a warrant out for her arrest. "I regret having met him," she added. "Today, I feel that it wasn't love."

Joran (who is getting divorced, his lawyer told Fox News in May) was convicted in 2021 of trafficking cocaine and sentenced to another 18 years in prison. However, Peruvian law doesn't permit prisoners to spend more than 35 years in prison unless they're given a life sentence, so he's due to be released in June 2045 after serving the maximum. 

Roughly 13 years after he was indicted in the U.S., he was extradited to Alabama in June to face federal charges for his 2010 attempt to bilk Beth Holloway of $250,000. He pleaded guilty in October to extortion and wire fraud and was sentenced to 20 years in prison, which he's serving concurrently with his term in Peru.

And though he confessed to killing Natalee as part of the plea agreement, the statute of limitations for homicide in Aruba is 12 years.

Pathological: The Lies of Joran van der Sloot is streaming on Peacock.

(E! and Peacock are both members of the NBCUniversal family.)